A few weeks back, I showed you how PZ Myers misleads people with the word ‘science’ by falsely making it synonymous with a critical, rational examination. Well, Jerry Coyne recently did the same thing.
Coyne begins by recognizing there are limitations to science:
Okay, let me get one thing clear at the outset. I do not believe, nor have I ever asserted, that science provides us with all the answers that are worth having. Some answers worth having involve subjective taste: which bistro should I eat at tonight? Should I go out with Sue or with Megan? Is Joyce’s The Dead truly the best story ever written in English? (The answer to that, by the way, is “yes”.) Why does Beethoven move me to tears while Mozart leaves me cold? And there are the moral questions, such as “Is abortion wrong?”
But then he goes on as follows:
Dawkins, too, is not immune to the blandishments of art and literature, as you can see by simply reading his books. I suspect that both Richard and I are advocates of “scientism” only to the extent that when questions are amenable to logic, reason, and empirical investigation, then we should always use those tools. If that’s “scientism,” then so be it.
But Pigliucci is off the mark, I think, when insisting that we can’t apply science to the supernatural.
Did you catch the sleight of hand? He seamlessly transitioned from “logic, reason, and empirical investigation” to applied “science.” But the logical fallacy involved is the same one that tripped up Myers – just because science entails logic, reason, and empirical investigation does not mean any inquiry or decision that uses logic, reason, and empirical investigation is science. We all use logic, reason, and empirical investigation in our everyday decisions and beliefs, but that does not mean we are doing science. Nor does it mean we are all scientists.
In fact, let’s go back to one of those questions Coyne poses – “Should I go out with Sue or with Megan?” Does Jerry answer this question by flipping a coin? Does he pick a flower and begin pulling off petals while saying, “She loves me…?” Is it a decision rooted entirely in the whimsical moment? If so, Jerry would be a very superficial and fickle man. But if he is like the rest of us, he will use logic, reason, and empirical facts to inform his choice. He will consider the appearance of Sue and Megan and he will consider all the information he gleaned from talking with them (and perhaps their friends and his friends). Then, he will use his reason and logic to make the best choice in light of his mind’s objective. The date, in turn, will give him some information that feeds back on his decision. And if he asks himself whether he made the right choice, he’ll find it is easier to determine a “no” answer (falsification) than a ‘yes’ answer.
So what does this all mean? Either I am correct (and I am) in pointing out that the use of reason, logic, and empirical information is not sufficient for earning the label ‘science’ or Jerry’s decision to date Sue, and not Megan, should be listed on his CV as one of his scientific accomplishments.